DM Stith, Ian Proper and Matt O’Brian performed at Noncert One at Good Luck Restaurant. The show was the first event organized by Noncerts Rochester, a charity that donates 100% of its profits to Rochester City School music programs.
The three solo artists were backed by an incredible house band of classically trained musicians. Sasami Ashworth (French horn), the organizer of Noncerts Rochester, is an Eastman School of Music student, now touring with the Gil Evans Chamber Jazz Orchestra. She was joined by Samantha Moraes (violin), Kevin Tompkins (violin), Ben Thomas (bass), Ethan Helm (saxophone), Michael Conrad (trombone), Matthew Evans (percussion) and Carson Moody (percussion) of the Eastman School and Lars Kirvan (cello), Lisa Steltenpohl (viola), Anna Steltenpohl (oboe/English horn) and Min Na Lee (clarinet/bass clarinet) of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, all with impressive pedigrees of their own.
Good Luck was a classy converted-industrial building. Assorted chairs were set up facing the stage area, surrounded by the restaurant’s tables. Hors d’oeuvres offered a taste of the Good Luck kitchen, and the bar was open.
O’Brian arranged his reggae songs for acoustic guitar, backed by a few strings or horns. The most impressive thing was his voice. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone sing quite so powerfully. I was floored by his sheer strength.
After O’Brian, a jazz quartet played. People milled about, returned to tables, grabbed a bite, or perched at the bar. Before long, the full ensemble took their places.
DM Stith quietly fiddled with his amp, before sitting with his back to the crowd of musicians. He counted off before they started playing “Pity Dance.” Stith is an incredible performer on his own — which he showed later in the set — but many of his songs feature brilliant orchestral arrangements.
Gradually, the band pared itself down. Stith was accompanied by the string section for “Fire of Birds,” then two horns for “Thanksgiving Moon.” Eventually, he was alone on stage.
But as the musicians began to leave, Stith began doing more himself. He recorded claps and a few vocal sounds onto his looping pedal, which he turned into the rhythm of “Morning Glory Cloud,” and for his final song, “My Impatience,” he recorded six different vocal harmonies.
“Incredible,” said Ian Proper, as Stith gathered up his equipment. Proper’s words were more than just polite congratulations — Stith’s performance was incredible. As his vocal loops rang out at the end, I realized this might have been one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. His intimate intensity reached a deep place few musicians can.
Violinists Samantha Moraes and Kevin Tompkins played a handful of duets by Béla Bartók, before Proper closed out the concert with a much lighter set.
He started with one of his solo songs, “As a Ghost.” His guitar was quiet beneath the other instruments, but the warm strings and horns were a great addition to his acoustic-turned-orchestral indie pop. Proper then played “St. Christopher” and “Emily, Frankly,” two songs by his band Sports, and “Country Smile,” another of his solo tunes.
His final song was “People Change,” which he’s recorded by himself and with Ian Egling as YOU WOMEN. Even as he sang lyrics he referred to as kind of “silly,” Proper sounds like an accomplished songwriter. He sings with the diction and timing of Elvis Costello, and the presence of the band only added to the comparison.
Finally, Proper was joined by O’Brian and Stith for a performance of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” All three sang, and O’Brian and Proper strummed the staccato chords in time with the house band.
I really hope that there are more benefit shows ahead for Noncerts Rochester. If they’re anything like the first, I definitely wouldn’t want to miss it.
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